The Characters in American Splendor

It is no secret the pressure an author faces when describing those nearest and dearest to them. The fact that Pekar chose to do his memoires in a graphic manner puts pressure on him in two distinct ways. Firstly the dialogue in which he writes about them, secondly, the illustrators he choses to portray them through. I believe that Harvey had a method to his writing and chose each illustrator that he felt complimented the story of those around him best. For example, Whenever a woman is mentioned, she is usually drawn in a better light then those chosen to illustrate the men.

The Women of American Splendor – Bushra Mahmood

Joyce and Harvey were in their most successful relationship together for many reasons, a primary reason could be that their outlooks were similar if not exactly the same. To suggest why Joyce and Harveys relationship worked so well, one can look at numerous interviews of them together, or they can simply look at her perspective on him after his death. Joyce Brabner was interviewed by the New York times about the future of American Splendor, In true Pekar fashion she commented by saying “He just looks like kitty litter.” (D, Itzkoff, New York Times, September 5th, 2010). I find that such a pessimistic yet truthful insight to a painful moment is something that Pekar would have done and in translation is a true ode to him.

The Men of American Splendor – Bushra Mahmood

What’s amiss with American Splendor? I could have used more of Mr. Boats, my favorite character from Pekar’s comic, an African-American co-worker with an archaic, different-drummer vantage on life.” (Peary, September 2003, WBUR Radio)
In a film review about American Splendor, critic Gerald Peary pointed out just how important and lovable Mr Boats is in American Splendor. The rest of the article is located on Gerald’s personal site here .


3 Responses to Characters

  1. Hi Bushra,
    Your graphic of the main women in Harvey’s life really helped define them and their roles in his stories.
    Reading this made me think you might be interested in a link I had posted in my 4th post about Harvey. Just at the end of this interview he has very little to say about his first wife but it gives some hints about why she is illustrated/described a particular way:
    (You can just scroll to the very last part of the interview to read about her if you’re interested.)

  2. Hey Bushra,

    Great job on both graphics! I must say that out of the male characters, I like Mr. Boats the best. I think you’re write to question his existence as real or as a metaphor as he seems to be a point of commiseration for Pekar’s “Jack” personae. He usually gives him the floor when Mr. Boats is present which is rare but Boats tends to reflect the way Harvey thinks and acts anyhow so there is something suspicious in that right? 😉

    I like Freddie as well because he is someone that most people can relate to, that certain friend or acquaintance that asks way too much and never reciprocates. Once more, it becomes a matter of loyalty and compassion, at least for Pekar.

    In general, Pekar pays as much attention to his other characters as he does to his own shadow and various personifications. Even the immigrant story is sensitivly written and the character subtly developed. His special use of dialects also made a huge difference when it came to giving foreign born personalities life and dimension from the old Austrian Jewish doctor to Frankie’s “Barbra Walters” enunciation.


  3. Allen says:

    Hi Bushra,

    Great entry on the characters of American Splendor! I enjoyed reading the descriptions of both the men and women portrayed in the comic. In particular, I found a personal connection in Mr. Boats. He is reminiscent of many of comics’ famous characters such as Robbie Robertson in Spider-Man or Alfred Pennyworth in Batman. These ‘father-figures’ help to guide the journey of the protagonist in through words of advice. I don’t think Pekar was an avid comic reader but in a way, a character of greater wisdom and experience enriches the path of the protagonist.

    When I read of your discussion on the relationship between Joyce and Harvey, it made me appreciate the length of their marriage. In the movie, their relationship is shown as endurance amongst trials and tribulations, and infighting and disagreement. It was impressive seeing how honest and candid Harvey was in sharing his relationship to his audience. I think that much of Splendor’s length is credited to Joyce putting up with him for so long and being supportive.

    In reading Splendor I found a greater appreciation for Pekar’s narrative. Prior to reading this book, I had heard of the book as a seminal work but did not find interest in reading it until this project.

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